Podcast Episode: Wordle and the Web We Need

Cindy F. Cape

Where is the internet we were promised? It feels like we’re dominated by megalithic, siloed platforms where users have little or no say over how their data is used and little recourse if they disagree, where direct interaction with users is seen as a bug to be fixed, and where art and creativity are just “content generation.”

But take a peek beyond those platforms and you can still find a thriving internet of millions who are empowered to control their own technology, art, and lives. Anil Dash, CEO of Glitch and an EFF board member, says this is where we start reclaiming the internet for individual agency, control, creativity, and connection to culture – especially among society’s most vulnerable and marginalized members.

Dash speaks with EFF’s Cindy Cohn and Danny O’Brien about building more humane and inclusive technology, and leveraging love of art and culture into grassroots movements for an internet that truly belongs to us all.

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This episode is also available on the Internet Archive.

In this episode you’ll learn about:

  • What past and current social justice movements can teach us about reclaiming the internet
  • The importance of clearly understanding and describing what we want—and don’t want—from technology
  • Energizing people in artistic and fandom communities to become activists for better technology
  • Tech workers’ potential power over what their employers do
  • How Wordle might be a window into a healthier web

Anil Dash is CEO of Glitch, the friendly developer community where coders collaborate to create and share millions of web apps, and a longtime entrepreneur and writer focused upon how technology can transform society, media, the arts, government, and culture. In addition to serving on EFF’s board, he serves on the boards of The Markup, a nonprofit investigative newsroom pushing for tech accountability; Data & Society Research Institute, which researches the cutting edge of tech’s impact on society; and the Lower East Side Girls Club, which serves girls and families in need in New York City. He was an advisor to the Obama White House’s Office of Digital Strategy, served for a decade on the board of Stack Overflow, the world’s largest community for coders, and today advises key startups and non-profits including Medium, The Human Utility, DonorsChoose and Project Include.

Music:

Music for How to Fix the Internet was created for us by Reed Mathis and Nat Keefe of BeatMower. 

This podcast is licensed Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International, and includes the following music licensed Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported by their creators: 

Resources

Open Source and Free Software

Digital Rights and Individual Empowerment

Anonymity and Pseudonymity

Data Ownership

Apple and Encryption

Digital Surveillance Education

Intellectual Property and Remixes

Transcript

Anil Dash: So Josh Wardle made a word game for his partner because she wanted to be able to play this word game every day. And at an architectural level, it is radical because it is simple and it is a throwback to an internet that many people have forgotten about.

What happened after that was the Glitch community, took the idea and ran with it. They made remixes. 

And so people have made, I mean the last count was well over a thousand remixes of Wordle on Glitch and that’s sort of branched off into all these different worlds now. 

And what’s been most amazing for me to see is the majority of remixes we’ve seen on Glitch have been from K-pop fans. So we have a huge community of mostly teenage girls who love K-pop, Korean pop music, which is global pop music now.

And so that’s pretty remarkable that we have on an average afternoon, a handful of new apps made by young women, will pop up about the groups that they like and then people play it, they share their scores. The key takeaway here is pop culture tied directly to broad individual creation of independent websites that all run on their own addresses created by individual people with no surveillance, no tracking, no connection to any of the big silos, complete open source, the ability to take it and actually run it somewhere else.The web that we are told we are fighting for exists every day and millions of people are participating in it.

Cindy:

That’s Anil Dash. He’s the CEO of Glitch and he’s also on the EFF’s Board of Directors. Anil thinks a lot about many things, but today we’re going to focus on how we can build a grassroots movement to support better technology.

Danny:

Anil is going to tell us what we need to do to make tech be more relevant and to build involvement beyond the converted.

Cindy:

I’m Cindy Cohn, EFF’s executive director.

Danny:

And I’m Danny O’Brien special advisor to EFF. Welcome to How to Fix the Internet, a podcast of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Cindy:

Hi Anil, we’re just delighted that you agreed to join us.

Anil:

Hello. I’m so glad to be here.

Cindy:

Tell me the problem as you see it. Why is tech not reaching out in the way that it ought to galvanize movements, to get us to a better internet?

Anil:

That’s a big question, but I think about first learning from other movements. So we’re in an amazing moment, for example of people fighting for a higher minimum wage in the US.

Danny:

Right.

Anil:

They call it the Fight for $15 and it’s very clear. You know if you got paid 15 bucks an hour or not and you know what you’re asking for. And I think about movements like that are so galvanizing because of their clarity, you’ll know when you win.  And if somebody says this big tech company did something wrong about privacy. Okay. Yeah, I believe that. That’s easy to believe. And they said, “What do we want?”   And if we don’t know what it would take to win, then do we have a movement at all? I think that’s the challenge we have, because as soon as we have that clarity, we won’t have to do anything to galvanize many more people joining in and wanting to be part of it.

Danny:

It is a hard task and it is something that someone has to explicitly do. I guess the question maybe we should all be talking about is, how do you even begin to think about that? What is better tech? What is a better internet?

Anil:

I think one of the most important things is about knowing that this is not the beginning of a moment. I don’t want to obsess too much about the Fight for $15, but I think it’s a great example. There’s a couple centuries of prior art there to learn from about what constitutes a fair wage for people. And so if you look at this moment one of the reasons we have as many challenges as we do in tech is there’s almost this insistence that nothing came before. We’re the beginning of history all the time.

Cindy:

Yes.

Anil:

And I have enough gray in my beard and everybody has that enough mileage on their sneakers to know this isn’t the first time we’ve had these issues before. In many cases it’s not the first time the people who are making these mistakes have made these mistakes. This is not the first time anybody’s thought about these problems and what could we learn about what did and didn’t work in the past?

Cindy:

I want to flip this around just a little bit. So tell us your vision. What if we get this all right? And then maybe we can back into our slogan a little bit.

Anil:

That’s the hard part, isn’t it? It’s like I know what I don’t like, it’s almost the inverse of, I’ll know it when I’ll see it. There’s very obviously this trickle down architecture. First we’ll help the people that have the fastest phones, the fastest connections, the most wealth, the most security, the most stability and then everybody else will benefit later. And that part always gets overlooked. So I think there’s an orientation to service, an orientation to alignment to who you’re serving that is a North star, so that’s one part. It sounds nebulous, but it’s far more falsifiable. It’s far more testable than you might imagine.

I think very often you can say, can this technology be used by somebody who’s unhoused? Can this technology be used by somebody who’s unbanked? Can this technology be used by somebody with an intermittent connection? Can this technology be used by somebody who, if they revealed some aspect of their identity to their employer, to their government would be in danger? A very short list. We can just rattle off five of them and we can probably come up with five more and cover a couple billion people that we care about. That list lives in my head because I do product work every day, I’m lucky I get to work on a product with a team that cares about that. But I think that’s got to be the North star, at least you’re making informed decisions there, but I don’t think that’s the process for much of especially Silicon Valley, but in general.

Danny:

One of the parts we struggle with as a movement, as much as anything is, what do you call that relationship?

Anil:

Yeah.

Danny:

So there’s customer. There’s user. Or consumer, another one that I feel really uncomfortable with.

Cindy:

That’s grim.

Anil:

That’s a really grim one.

Danny:

Yeah. Because it’s so hard to explain because you go, you’re not just consuming. You’re not just this spigot that receives these things.

Anil:

Yeah. There’s a dehumanizing rhetoric. I think the language reveals the thought. This happened when, I used to say I was a writer I write on the internet and now the default stance is that people generate content.

Cindy:

Right.

Anil:

When the phrase user generated content came out, it was such an absurd framing that I think those of us who were users who were generating content were like, this sounds like a parody. It’s nothing you would ever say to a person. And now I talk to young people who introduce themselves to me as content creators.

Cindy:
Yes.

Danny:

Right.

Anil:

And the idea that. And I’m the old guy talking about the 20th century idea of don’t sell out and you’re not going to license your song for a commercial, like this stuff. That’s very anachronistic. I’m aware that time has passed for that moment for a lot of people. But the idea that you would willingly describe something that comes from your heart and soul as content, it’s extremist framing. It’s actually very radical framing and I think that sense that we forget how radical the thought processes have gotten for lots of folks like the Overton window has shifted so radically that the language is only evidence of it having happened. And so I keep coming back to that of we concede so much just by how we even talk about things. 

Cindy:

So who are we? What should we be?

Anil:

I struggle with this a lot because I help run Glitch and it’s a company where people make apps, but we talk a lot about having a community. And I’m struck because I think everybody does. I think every platform I’ve ever read in the last 20 years is we have a community, a community of users. We have all these things and it could be the most hostile place in the world. It can be spying on their users. It can be deleting their data. It can be undermining their jobs. And it’s like, “We got a community.”

Cindy:

Yeah. When Zuckerberg calls Facebook a community, it just [inaudible 00:13:36].

Anil:

These words don’t mean anything and I struggle because I do mean it. And I take it very seriously in the same way that I attend a community board meetings in my neighborhood really seriously because it’s a community. And so the city council members roll their eyes when they see me show up, because they know I’m going to be there. And that’s what community- is enough to be exasperating to the people in charge. And that’s what I tell the team all the time. We’re in charge. We should be exasperated. That’s the definition of being a community. That’s not happening at 99% of the organizations that talk about having communities. So we don’t have a word for what’s right.

Cindy:

It is strange to have people defining themselves from the perspective of the platform when they’re the artist. 

Anil:
That’s right. 

Cindy:

You’re a content creator only from the perspective of the people who built the platform that you’re creating the content for that’s whose perspective it is for many people they’re an artist.

Anil:

I think of a pop culture example like Zach Snyder, he makes a superhero film and then they don’t put it out the right way and then he goes to the studios and he’s like, “You’re going to put out my version” and they spend whatever, they spend a hundred billion dollars to do it. And he’s not saying I’m a content creator for HBO. He’s not saying that, that’s not what he’s doing. Steven Spielberg is not a content creator for a movie studio. And I think there’s that sense of owning your work and knowing what you are in the world that is denied by people who are sort of born into that framing. You take somebody like Beyonce, she is not a content creator. She’s like, “I know what I’m worth. I’ll be on Netflix, I’ll be on Spotify. I’ll be wherever you need to be, but you’re going to pay me. You’re going to give me control. And I’m an artist.” Inarguably. And I don’t think you’re going to have most generation Z coming up with that sense of self-agency, control, and ownership, even though that’s what the internet promised them. And when we were all excited about the web in the early days of the web. It was like everybody’s going to own their own work and they’re going to have this control. 

Danny:

There are some things where people go, “Oh, we’ll start a union, that will develop a relationship between us and the company that we work for.” And so we see a renewal in that as people try and work out a way of managing that power relationship.

Anil:

Right.

Danny:

It’s hard to imagine a union of users, but maybe we could. How can people regain or have that control over the technology that seems to dominate their lives?

Anil:

One, I wouldn’t concede that at all. I think absolutely users can organize and say, we want to own and control our data, but we already have examples of this. I think of the Delete Uber hashtag trending on Twitter. And that was material enough that it got disclosed in the next quarterly reports of the company and in their IPO filing. And that was a couple of folks that started it and it caught momentum and it had real impact on a multi-billion dollar company. I think there’s been media based lobbying about the algorithms of Facebook and companies like that. 

I think the biggest thing is obviously regulation is the one people talk about, but we’ve let go at least in most of the Western world of public shame as a mechanism, we’re in a post shame world. But there are still people in Silicon Valley that don’t want to be ashamed. And people that work in tech that don’t want to be ashamed. I think the workers are a really great place to go. I think telling people like, “Do you want to be complicit in what this company is doing and you have other options.” Because tech workers are the most demand workers in the world. I think those are points of leverage that have not been explored at all in terms of driving change.

Cindy:

We recently got Apple to back down on some of its breaking of end to end encryption. We did some high profile things like flying a banner over Apple when they were having a big meeting and things like that.

Anil:

You got to have fun.

Cindy:

You should have fun. I don’t know, if you can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution. The people inside Apple, the workers were the ones who were really pressuring to make a change in course. And I feel like we’ve tried many times to talk to tech workers about things, and I feel like we just need to keep working until we get it right. 

Anil:
Yeah.


Cindy:

And I feel like we haven’t quite figured that out and if you’ve got ideas, of course I’m all ears.

Anil:

I don’t know the answer, but I know the traits of the answer. I think one of the things is to say a movement has to have a name and an identity enough that people know that they’re part of it.  If you are a worker at a company that is building a product that is not going to respect people’s privacy but you’re a good actor and you’d like to fix that. How do you throw up the bat signal? What hashtag do you use? If you wanted to say, I want to galvanize everybody in the world who cares about this?  There is a signal you can throw up that is going to galvanize the people who care about it and are aligned with you. And that doesn’t mean everybody’s going to be agreeing. It just means that you’re going to be able to get the eyes of the people who do agree with you. And yet what I find across the board if I say, “What would be acceptable to you?” Say to somebody, “What’s a technology that would be okay for you?” And for me, my list, it’s like, I want environmental concerns addressed. I want ethical concerns addressed. I want user privacy concerns addressed. I have a list, right. But that’s not where the conversation is. 

Danny:

I think one of the things is that it’s very easy to fall into just two responses. One is to be extremely excited about the technology and the other is to say I don’t want this and I want it to go away. And neither of those things are going to play out that way. It is not going to usher in a new utopia, but is not going to go away either. And so what you have to do is to work out a way of steering it, sort of riding this strange new force in the direction that you want it to go.

Anil:

We can’t evaluate whether it meets our ethical, moral, social, cultural standards, unless we know what our standards are.

Danny:

Right.

Anil:

And it’s so interesting because techies love technical conformance. We love to be like, “This is in compliance with the spec”. And then we sort of say, “Okay, but what’s our spec for the world?” We don’t have one.

Cindy:
Right.

Cindy:

So what I hear you saying, which I think is really right, which is we need to ask ourselves, how is our technology that we’re building going to impact the most marginal people in society? I think that if that question has been asked and answered in a good way, that’s part of our better world. What else? What else in our better world do you see?

Anil:

It’s such a tricky question, I think there’s a lot of aspects around agency and ownership. One of the things we can sort of picture very easily is, “Can I take my ball and go home?”

Cindy:

Yes.

Anil:

I think that’s just sort of one of those fundamentals and it’s a very old fashioned idea. It seems to be coming back into vogue with a lot of the Web3 enthusiasm. It’s funny because the early days of web 2.0 the hype was data is the new intel inside and there was this sort of trust based idea, you’d be able to export your data or something. It’s like everybody will be nice to you. And it turns out actually that doesn’t work at all. And everybody just went to fully locked into every platform that they use, so that to me feels like a thing that’s wide open to be reinvented.

Cindy:

And Facebook even let you download stuff, but it’s a bunch of gibberish, right.

Anil:

Right. That’s exactly the example I was going to say is, I get this giant… Mine is like a gigabyte plus of like my archive. And I’m like, “What am I going to do with this? Take it to some other app?” Like this doesn’t have any use in the world. And so it became this sort of fig leaf, just like open source was often used as like, “We’re not evil because we’re open source.” I think a lot of that happened with, “You got your data now, aren’t you happy?” And it was the letter, but not the spirit of openness.

Danny:

“How to Fix the Internet” is supported by The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s Program in Public Understanding of Science. Enriching people’s lives through a keener appreciation of our increasingly technological world and portraying the complex humanity of scientists, engineers, and mathematicians.

One of the backdrops of everything we’re talking about is that we have these big, massive postindustrial combines like Facebook and Google, and we have to lobby them or regulate them, or shame them, or motivate the people within them who have power to change them.  But that really wasn’t the dream originally with the internet., the internet was going to be this thing that would empower people to actually be able to take control of their own lives, take control of their own technology. Do you think that’s still a possibility, is there still a role that technology can play rather than political action to empower people?

Anil:

The ideal is still possible. The challenge is the society around the ideal. The architecture of the internet is such that we were all supposed to have our own domains and run our own email and our own website on them and the like. And that ain’t how it played out. It can never be solely technological, but you can absolutely imagine technology as part of that solution. We can imagine certainly the combination of technology and regulation mandating some degree of interoperability on such things. But I think there actually is one that is really culpable in this not having more users which is, the people who care deeply about these issues and have the technical skill in order to build alternatives, generally are so invested in being gatekeepers of their own technical mastery, that they don’t make them usable for normal people. And so there’s this interesting thing where it’s like, “I look down on having all my data in one of these giant silos from the big companies, but also I look down on users who don’t know how to run their own server on the internet.”

Danny:

This comes back to this thing of, you’ll still a long way from the people who are most vulnerable and most in need of this technology.

Anil:

That’s right.

There are camps that believe in only the Tech Titans having control and then a camp that believes in nominally individual users having control. But in real practice, neither of them is very good about caring for the most vulnerable anyway.

Danny:

You work on Glitch and Glitch is for those of you who don’t know, it is a kind of a system for helping people build just the tools and websites and programs that people can use on the web themselves. It’s design to be an easy to use way of building these apps. Do you think about embodying these values when you are designing stuff like Glitch or do you see these as separate worlds?

Anil:

Oh, yeah. Every day. This is why I do it.

Cindy:

Could we have an example?

Anil:

I’ll give you an example from outside because I’m very proud of what we do, but I want to be clear its part of a larger movement. So I think the example that comes to mind for me in 2022 is Wordle.

Danny:

Oh yeah.

Anil:

So word Wordle is amongst many other things in act of love. So Josh Wardle made a word game for his partner because she wanted to be able to play this word game every day. And at an architectural level, it is radical because it is simple and it is a throwback to an internet that many people have forgotten about. It is a single page on the web that you play this game on. It doesn’t have tons of tracking, you can’t log into it.

It doesn’t even attempt to finagle your data out of you and it’s fun. And it can’t try to steal your attention because you’re limited to only playing it once per day. And if you’re spending more than five minutes playing the game, you’re really bad at it and probably not having fun. So it’s sort of got a ceiling

Cindy:

Maybe 10 but okay.

Anil:

Okay, 10 we’ll put 10, but the point is, if you’re spending hours a day, as much as people are spending on TikTok, then that’s not the place for you. This is not the game for you. And so I think the thing is that it is structurally aligned with a healthy web and it is the biggest phenomenon in the consumer internet this year. And it’s made by a guy, by a person. And so I keep calling it the Wordle wide web, like that version of the internet we were told is dead and can’t succeed. It has to be in an app store. It has to be distributed through Facebook. It has to surveil you and has to be getting VC money and all this list of things. And it makes obvious that is a lie. No surprise to me what happened after that was the Glitch community, took the idea and ran with it. They made remixes. 

And so people have made, I mean the last count was well over a thousand remixes of Wordle on Glitch and that’s sort of branched off into all these different worlds now. So there are really tellingly identity based ones. There’s one of the earliest remix, this was called Queerdle. And it’s like, this is queer culture. 

And then because of how remix culture works online and because the web is open, it went whole different direction. Like the last couple weeks has been… So there’s Heardle, H-E-A-R-D-L-E. And those are song guessing and this is sort of like, those were about guessing words, but this is name that tune. This is not a new idea, And what’s been most amazing for me to see in these last two weeks is the majority of remixes we’ve seen on Glitch have been from K-pop fans. So we have a huge community of mostly teenage girls who love K-pop, Korean pop music, which is global pop music now.

And so they pick their favorite band and they take their songs and they make a Heardle remix just for the group that they like or just for the genre that they like. And so that’s pretty remarkable that we have on an average afternoon, a handful of new apps made by young women, will pop up about the groups that they like and then people play it, they share their scores. The key takeaway here is pop culture tied directly to broad individual creation of independent websites that all run on their own addresses created by individual people with no surveillance, no tracking, no connection to any of the big silos, complete open source, the ability to take it and actually run it somewhere else. When you get it downloaded, it’s not something that’s tied into the system. The web that we are told we are fighting for exists every day and millions of people are participating in it. But now it’s just becoming visible again.

Cindy:

I love that story.

Danny:

Does it change that calculus that Wordle itself was brought up by the New York Times and actually does have tracking on it and you do log in?

Anil:

Yeah, kind of but I was sort of torn at the end of the day, if somebody makes a great app for their loved one and then they get a million dollars. And sell it to New York Times, good for them. I think a younger me would’ve been much more radicalized by that, but I’m like, you know that’s not the worst outcome. But actually part of it is that my impression from Josh who made it, he used to work at Reddit and everything else. He’s probably going to get paid more for that than he did from working at Reddit or something like that. So the idea that there’s more of a return as opposed to, whether it’s the venture backed model or the publicly traded companies model, like those don’t always reward their workers commensurate to the value that they create.

Danny:
Right

Anil:

And so I think that sort of has to be the benchmark as opposed to keep it pure and don’t make any money on this thing, because I’m like, we tried having that as our aesthetic, maybe as late as the 90s. The Beatles had their song license to the Nike commercial and a bunch of Boomers got mad. And that idea of caring about that level of selling out at a time when every rapper has their own perfume and clothing line and whatever is just anachronistic. So I think that sense of the purity of it being non-commercial it’s actually not a battle we could win, but the idea of agency, control, creativity, response, connection to culture and genuine democratization to a demographic that has been overlooked and disrespected by the tech platforms, that is all doable.

Cindy:

The key there is the openness. The fact that somebody can take this thing and turn it into something that works for themselves, just their three friends or their whole community..I don’t care if the New York Times takes Wordle and turns it into something I don’t want, I got a hundred other choices.

Danny :

The thing that is also really important here is the thing that isn’t happening, which is that the New York Times is not suing all of these Wordles, out of existence, which is important because the reason why they’re not doing that is they know that would be an absolute nightmare. They have the legal capability to do that. But the norm, the norm is that you do not do that on the internet because the internet will hit back.

Cindy:

I’m wondering if you have thoughts about how do we bring people in those communities into this movement. 

Anil:
Yeah.

Cindy:

And how do we get the K-pop kids to recognize that we need them to stand up. How do we mobilize those communities better? Because I think that’s something we struggle with in tech a lot.

Anil:

There are so many natural affinities that I think we can do better at connecting to. One of the ones that jumps out to me is, in seeing the mobilization against police violence here in New York City after the death of George Floyd, the first thing that organizers were doing at marches was essentially teaching digital security to people, almost all young people coming out to these protests. And these marches and they were walking them through what to do with their phones and what to install and how to run their browser. It was extraordinary because they saw the first step of participating in protests or civil disobedience is digital fluency. And so it was incredible. And now I think it’s wonderful EFF has responded with resources for any kind of protestor, and I think that’s incredibly powerful. 

But even going and beyond that, I do think everybody cares about intellectual property now. Everybody in the world cares about it, like it is such a broad thing. And it used to be a couple lawyers cared or a couple like obsessives cared and now it is every day and absolutely fan culture and remixed culture, which are just culture, they’re all society now, are entirely predicated on a deep level of fluency in sometimes arcane aspects of intellectual property law. And so that to me is like, that’s fertile ground. 

I’m a big fan and scholar of Prince’s work. And seeing his very zealous lawyers go in and take an overly aggressive stance if for understandable reasons about IP. Was a huge learning experience for that fan community. They were not intrinsically motivated to learn about these things, but at the same time they were also learning about trademark. Prince had changed his name to a symbol and he had a trademark on the symbol and they learned the difference between copyright and trademark and he filed for a patent, they learned a patent.

And I was like, fan communities teach each other a lot. I’m struck pop music fans in general now, their level of knowledge about corporate structures and licensing agreements and publishing agreements is off the charts. All those things were things that were somewhat esoteric then that are fundamental to like a 13 year old’s fandom now.

Anybody who has an artist they love, or a fandom that they’re part of a community like that real community, not the tech version of community, but a real community. That’s the entry point culture and art that moves us is the entry point to which we start to learn about these things, because then it’s not abstract and then it’s not esoteric and off putting. It is about something that’s meaningful to us. That’s how we bring people in, is to say these things you care about are directly shaped, directly affected by policy, by the practice of these companies, by the way that things are fairly or unfairly enforced. I think we can make things relevant to a lot broader audience.

Cindy:

Anil, thank you so much for taking this time to talk with us. What a fascinating conversation going in a bunch of different directions that were not the ones we anticipated, but always fun.

Danny:

From Wordle to Prince. I don’t think those were the things that I had scribbled on the back of an envelope when we came in.

Cindy:

With K-pop in between.

Danny:

Yeah. Thanks so much.

Cindy:

Big, thanks to Anil for joining us today. The first thing we talked about is something that we’ve heard consistently across this podcast is that we need the people who are affected by technologies and especially those who are the most marginalized, the technologies need to serve them. And this is just so consistent across all the people that we talk to.

Danny:

And also you can’t have an approach to technology unless you know what you are ultimately aiming for. You need to be able to steer the technology. And that means having very clear messages about what you want. When you put up a bat signal for grassroots movements, they need clarity. They need to know what you stand for.

Cindy:

I loved his example of how we’ve taken the idea of being an artist and turned it into a content creator and how it’s become just so embedded that the people who are making things and doing things are a piece of somebody else’s story rather than the main story.

Danny:

In terms of strategy and tactics, I do think that this emerging possibility that tech workers can influence positive change at tech companies. I think again, that’s a recurring theme, but I think he put a real point on it. I’m not sure about the term shame actually. I kind of disagreed with the Anil there. I think that what he’s describing is correct, but I don’t think the method is shame. I think it’s actually just illustrating, getting people to see the consequences of what they do and highlighting that they have the power to change that.

Cindy:

It’s just basic accountability and that doesn’t have to be a personal decision that you’re a bad person. It’s just making people accountable for the consequences of the things they build and the way that their businesses work.

I also love that the world needs more Wordle and all the various Wordles all around. I love that as an example of how sometimes we get locked into this mentality that everything that happens online, happens on Facebook or one of the other giants and here’s this tremendous thing that didn’t come from there at all, and is now expanding and growing and being adopted by communities all around the world for their own purposes, quite apart from the tech giants.

Danny:

Corynne McSherry, the legal director at EFF is always talking about how everybody pays attention to Facebook and forgets that the web we’re defending is still there, still an engine of creativity in empowerment.

And out of left field, I think that while we’re talking about political action, it’s still true that digital security has become an important first step in protests. And maybe that’s the thing that leads us on to other considerations from like intellectual property to the importance of encryption, all of this stuff is already ingrained in people’s lives, so all it takes is pointing out that they’re already taking it seriously. We just need to work out a way of making all of those things work for them.

Cindy:

I love his emphasis on art and how art is one of the ways that we can bring people into an understanding of how they’re impacted by technology. But really seize the means of making their art, sharing their art, talking about their art and appreciating other artists. The fan communities as well, that these are all people who are already engaged with their technology. And so for us, as people who are trying to help make a better world, we just have to find a way to reach those communities and help empower them to use their voice to make things better.

Danny:

Thank you for listening. If you want to get in touch about the show, you can write to us at [email protected]. Check out the EFF website to become a member or donate. 

This podcast is licensed Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International, and includes music licensed Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported by their creators. You can find their names and links to their music in our episode notes, or on our website at eff.org/podcast

How to Fix the Internet is supported by the Alfred P. Sloan foundation’s program in public understanding of science and technology. 

I’m Danny O’Brien.

CINDY: And I’m Cindy Cohn. 

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2022/05/podcast-episode-wordle-and-web-we-need

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